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Volunteering in Times of Financial Crisis: Challenges and Solutions


Person giving their time volunteering.

In times of financial uncertainty and a cost-of-living crisis, charitable organisations face an additional challenge—struggling to attract volunteers.


I understand the concerns and worries that may arise when considering donating time to a good cause. Intention and a passion to help others will not pay the bills. Diminishing income for the organisation could put some volunteers off if expenses are involved. Will they be reimbursed, for example?


Even retirees, who, traditionally, are most likely to donate their time to a good cause, may not be as available as they were before the financial crisis hit; they may have had to return to work on a part-time basis to supplement their pension or now have other commitments.


Making ends meet

In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, individuals often find themselves working longer hours or taking on multiple jobs to make ends meet. The need to prioritise paid employment to cover essential expenses, which may leave little time available for volunteering.


Time is suddenly not ‘spare’

Time begins to carry additional value when things are tough financially. Even if an individual is not in paid work, their spare time becomes even more valuable the scarcer it is. A volunteer may decide that the time they currently donate to their favourite cause may not directly contribute to improving their financial and/or family situation and the arrangement needs to come to an end as a result.


The need for greater incentives than fulfilment

Volunteering is often a selfless act driven by a desire to give back and make a positive impact. However, during a cost-of-living crisis, individuals may feel the need for more tangible benefits or incentives to engage in volunteering activities. Incentives such as guaranteed reimbursement for travel expenses, flexible scheduling options, or opportunities for skills development and networking can help alleviate some of the financial concerns associated with volunteering. Charities that can provide such incentives are more likely to attract volunteers, even in challenging times.


Stress around finances

A cost-of-living crisis can take a toll on an individual's emotional and mental well-being. Financial stress, anxiety, and worries about the future can make it difficult for individuals to find the motivation and energy to engage in additional activities like volunteering. While volunteering can bring a sense of purpose and fulfilment, the emotional and mental strain resulting from financial worries may make it challenging for individuals to donate their time and efforts.


Raising awareness about the importance of supporting charitable organisations during times of crisis can help inspire individuals to find creative ways to contribute, even if they are unable to commit their time directly. By understanding and empathising with the concerns of potential volunteers, charities can work towards overcoming the barriers presented by the cost-of-living crisis and continue to make a positive impact in the community.


A lack of bodies equals a lot more work!

If an organisation with a thriving number of volunteers begins to lose some of them, those remaining may find it less fun and less fulfilling to pick up the slack. On top of a lack of bodies, the cost-of-living crisis has also increased the number of beneficiaries and demand for many charity’s services to all-time high levels. Combined, what was once an enjoyable endeavour may now seem a lot like hard work; when this happens in the workplace, you can at least console yourself with a wage in compensation for all the stress. This is rarely the case when volunteering.


Family pressures

Volunteers may be asked by their families to help out with childcare as nursery and after-school club costs escalate, thus putting an extra strain on the spare time they have available to volunteer.


Online competition

Some voluntary roles have moved online, such as fundraising and event support, PR and media opportunities. These may appeal to volunteers more than before the financial crisis, given the convenience and lack of outlay to be reimbursed. As you’ll know, however, those that volunteer in person tend to help out in other areas than just that which they’ve been recruited for—even if it’s just making a cuppa for the equally-stressed out staff. If they choose to volunteer on a remote basis, their lack of presence may be felt acutely for the simplest of actions.


New hobbies or perspective

The pandemic changed a lot of things, not least how precious our time actually is. Some of your most loyal volunteers may have taken up a new hobby or interest over the last year or so and no longer be as accommodating or flexible with their time. Lockdowns stopped everything in the beginning, and this gave some people the headspace to assess what they achieve or receive for their actions and efforts. The same old, same old may no longer be enough for them.


I don’t have a magic solution for any of these hurdles your volunteers may be facing; however, outlining their concerns may help you to see things from their point of view. When you can better understand their hesitations and limitations, you can find a way to work with them or around them.


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